Mama Africa’s World
Zenzile Miriam "Mama Africa" Makeba
was a gifted, bold, and beautiful singer, songwriter, and truth teller.
She touched the spirits of many on an international scale.
Her life was a walk in Truth through time, space, and music.
1932 - Zenzile Miriam Makeba is born on March 4 in Prospect Township, South Africa.
1948 - The National Party gains power in South Africa and immediately begins enforcing existing policies of racial segregation, known as Apartheid, including the use of passbooks, which every black South African over age 16 was required to carry at all times.
1949 - Marries her first husband, James Kubay. They are married for two years. One year later, Makeba gives birth to her only child: a daughter, Bongi Makeba, who would follow in her mother’s musical footsteps.
1953 - Records her first hit, “Lakutshon’ Ilanga,” with the Manhattan Brothers - a jazz group who sang a mixture of South African songs and popular songs from African-American groups.
1956 - Releases her first solo album, “Lovely Lies,” which gains international recognition and becomes the first South African record to land on the Billboard Top 100 list.
1960 - Following the deaths of two uncles in the Sharpeville Massacre, Makeba becomes an outspoken critic of apartheid and the white-minority government of South Africa.
1960 - Releases her first studio album, Miriam Makeba.
1962 - Performs for US President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden with Harry Belafonte.
1963 - Testifies before the United Nations about the effects of apartheid, asking for sanctions against South Africa’s Nation Party. Her music is banned in South Africa, her citizenship revoked, and she is exiled.
1963 - Nelson Mandela, a founder of the military wing of the African National Congress and a substantial anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, is imprisoned.
1963 - The March on Washington occurs, with 250,000 people gathering to draw attention to the inequalities that exist in the United States and listen to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address.
1964 - Releases her second studio album, The World of Miriam Makeba.
1966 - Receives the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording, with Belafonte, for An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba. The album includes several songs critical of the South African government.
1967 - Releases the album, Pata Pata. The title track becomes a worldwide hit.
1968 - Marries political activist Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) in March, which causes her popularity in the United States to significantly decline. When she and Carmichael travel to the Bahamas, Makeba is banned from returning to the US.
1968 - Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
1970s - Lives in Guinea and records new songs, some of which are critical of the U.S. and its racist laws and practices. She performs in Europe and Asia, as well as in many countries in Africa, and becomes known as “Mama Africa.”
1975 - Appointed Guinea’s official delegate to the United Nations.
1987- After 21 years of exile, she finally returns to the United States.
1987 - Joins Paul Simon’s Graceland tour, which concludes in Zimbabwe and is filmed for theatrical release as Graceland: The African Concert.
1988 - Signs with Warner Bros. Released Sangoma, an album named in honor of her sangoma mother. That same year, she participates in the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, which is broadcast to a global audience of 600 million.
1990 - After nearly 30 years, Nelson Mandela is released from prison and continues working to reform the South African government and end apartheid.
1990 - Nelson Mandela persuades Makeba to return to South Africa. She does so on June 10, after 28 years in exile.
2004 - Releases her final studio album, Reflections.
2008 - After falling and suffering from a heart attack during a concert in Castel Volturno in Italy, Miriam Makeba dies on November 9.
Apartheid in South Africa
Apartheid (meaning “apartness” in the language of Afrikaans) was a system of segregationist policies against non-white citizens in South Africa. Lasting for the better part of 50 years, this system of racial segregation and white supremacy was marked by a physical separation of non-white South Africans and white South Africans, even going as far as to strip black South Africans of their land and forcing them into poverty, as well as removing black South Africans from the nations’s political body.
Opposition to apartheid in South Africa ranged from non-violent protests to political action and armed resistance. The Sharpesville massacre in March of 1960, a non-violent resistance demonstration that resulted in the death of more than 60 black South Africans and the wounding of 180 more, led anti-apartheid leaders to establish military wings. Nelson Madela, a founder of the military wing of the African National Congress, was imprisoned from 1963-1990.
In 1976, thousands of black children in Soweto were killed while protesting against the Afrikaans language (which black South African students were forced to learn in place of English as a way to limit them). Gaining international attention, this event increased opposition to apartheid policies. Facing pressure, support for the system continued to lessen until, in 1994, the all-white government was replaced by a nonwhite majority, marking an official end to apartheid.
Civil Rights Movement in the United States
Taking place mainly during the 1950s and 1960s, this struggle for social justice in the United States was marked by a mobilized effort to gain equal rights for Black Americans under the law.
Key activists and figures included Martin Luther King, Jr., whose push for nonviolence and peaceful protests led to organized efforts such as sit-ins, bus boycotts, and the March on Washington in August of 1963, where an estimated 250,000 people gathered to draw attention to the inequalities that existed in the United States.
Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael were major figures of the Black Panther Party, which began as a direct challenge to police brutality. The party also organized important community programs, like providing access to food, healthcare, and education to those in need of services. Leaders of the Black Panther Party became vilified and were accused of criminal activities that led to waning membership in the 1970s and 1980s.